A bunch of Sunday lunches

IMG_0503 oysters kilpatrick at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-26-02 19-11-2017 14-26-02

hereOysters Kilpatrick at Peppercorn

MY wife had stirred disconsolately through her bowl of modgy fish chowder, so thick and full of overcooked potato you could stand a spoon up in it. “I feel like Jacques Cousteau: I’ve just found a piece of fish at last.”

Oh, I remember it well: One of our many Sunday Lunches That Went Wrong.

We are speeding towards one now and have high hopes but to pass the time reflect on some of the others we have had in the 25 years or so when I wrote about restaurants for a living instead of for fun, as here.

Sunday lunches were our special treat and usually chosen carefully. We regarded it as a perk for filing a review on time and never missing a single week. It was also compensation for giving up our day of rest (Wednesday or Friday night reviews didn’t seem so onerous) and it kept down the housekeeping bills.

So we would make sure we did the Peacock at Rowsley (country house hotel with famous guests, super food and Sunday newspapers by the fire) at least once every three years and preferably on a rainy winter Sunday. There were a few others like that, on a rota, but every now and again you had to take pot luck.

Wherever I went I almost inevitably had roast beef. My reasoning was that this was the dish most people would order, certainly the men, and Sunday isn’t a day to go experimental. My wife could explore the menu’s more exotic slopes.

That modge of a chowder was in an hotel dining room on the edge of Sheffield where the chef had unwisely bunked off in the middle of service to leave a trainee in charge. My roast beef wasn’t any better but the gravy was surprisingly good. I shan’t name the place because it’s still there but I will the Middlewood Hall Hotel, long deceased, like the chipolata served up with my daughter’s roast. It had been baked so hard she couldn’t get her knife through it so gave it to her mum. Mum couldn’t either so it was Pass the Sausage and my turn. It was Man versus Chipolata and I lost.

IMG_0507 roast beef at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-44-30

I always order the roast beef


At another place, where customers piled their plates so high they looked like relief models of Mount Kilimanjaro with clouds around the top – oh no, they were cauliflower florets – the kitchen had burned an apple pie badly. The chef had tried to conceal the error, submerged under a sea of custard.

Sometimes we got it right but customers got it wrong. I trilled a hymn of praise to the rosy red beef and brown bread ice cream (in the days before it was retro) and the following week it was so inundated with customers they couldn’t cope. Diners hadn’t been reading my review closely. “My beef was undercooked,” one reader rang in, who liked his meat grey.

I went back some years later and the highlight of our visit was not the food but a diner who strode to the table in flat cap and Wellington boots. Well, it was in the countryside.

No one is wearing flat caps or Wellington boots at Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South. We had meant to be a four but friends cried off so we kept the booking just for us. Now I have reviewed Sunday lunch on the blog here just over a year ago so I’ll keep it short. Chef-patron Charlie Curran and his wife Kelly had disappeared to Filey to relax before the Christmas rush leaving the kitchen in the capable hands of sous Dan Kidd.

It was notable for a starter I’d not seen before, oysters Kilpatrick. This comprised three rock oysters toped with cheddar cheese and bacon lardons, baked on hay. I think it’s Australian in origin and the cheese can be optional in most recipes I’ve seen. I liked it. Flavours were subtler than I expected, I didn’t get the briny blast you have with a raw oyster, so it’s not so much Margate, more Frinton. With light as a feather batter on my wife’s squid rings (“If my cheese soufflé is as light I’ll be pleased,” she said and she was) and up to the mark roast beef, we enjoyed ourselves.

#Peppercorn, 289 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LB. 0114 235 0101. Web: www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk


A Sunday lunch, in which I am overfaced by Mr Brown

IMG_0224 Cary Brown at Barlow Woodseats 13-08-2017 13-53-05

Cary Brown explains a concept at Barlow Woodseats Hall

YOU know that old cliché about tables groaning with food? Well ours was. There were slices of very decent beef the size of rosy red doorsteps, wedges of tender pork so big they could almost have been a pig, wings and breasts of chicken, ribs of lamb, sausages wrapped in bacon and stuffing like golf balls.

 And then they brought the Yorkshire Puddings, the size and shape of cumulus clouds, with crispy crunchy roast potatoes posing as cannon balls. A big dish of cauliflower cheese followed, with another of vegetables. And a half pint jug of proper gravy. Talk about trencherman food: this could have filled a WW1 trench.

 “Right,” I said to my wife.”We’re going to tackle this the Victorian way, eating slowly.” But it beat us in the end and we were the ones groaning – with pleasure. If we had carried on we would have been like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote and exploded.

 “This is like going to an all you can eat buffet, only in this case they bring it to your table and it tastes of something,” I added.

IMG_0234 Just a part of the main course at Barlow Woodseats Hall 13-08-2017 14-25-22 13-08-2017 14-25-22

Just part of the main course

We haven’t had a Sunday lunch like this since that time at the Royal Oak, Millthorpe, and it was the same chef. So if I couldn’t tackle all that food I went to tackle the man responsible, Cary Brown. “Sunday lunch should be a time for indulgence. If people say I’ve overfaced them I don’t get offended,” he said.

 Cary has had almost as many venues as I’ve had hot dinners and that’s saying something. A month or two ago he and his partner Shelley spectacularly left the Devonshire Arms at Middle Handley after a dispute with the owners, draining the place dry with free beer for friends and regulars. Since legal matters loom we’ll say no more.

 He has popped up at historic 16th century Barlow Woodseats Hall, down a lane called Johnnygate that leads to nowhere except this former home of the famous Bess of Hardwick, the Elizabethan lass who had four husbands and ended up as the Countess of Shrewsbury. She and Robert Barlow were only 14 at the time and he died within a year.

 IMG_0226 Long Barn at Barlow Woodseats 13-08-2017 13-54-38.JPGTo be more precise Mr Brown has popped up in the Long Barn next door, a magnificent Grade II listed medieval cruck barn which, the last time I looked when reporting for the Sheffield Star was a cowshed knee deep in manure. That was in 2006 when the Milward family put the hall on the market for a million quid and right next door was a working farm, all smells and moos.

 I never checked to see if it had sold but if I had I could have reported it was bought by Nick Todd and his family, a partner in the long established Sheffield auctioneers and valuers, Ellis Willis & Beckett. He did up the hall, bought the barn and it is now a weddings and functions venue and, with Cary at the stove, a pop-up for Sunday luncheons and afternoon teas. The next will be in September and, at £25 a head, you get a doggy bag to take home.

 Nick and Cary, who met over the bar at the Royal Oak just down the road, have big plans for the barn, which comes with several cottages built from the old stables, still with some of the original features plus up to the minute wet rooms, kitchens and four poster beds.

 My wife Sue and I take a break for air after that main course (but before Shelley’s lovely passionfruit cheesecake and chocolate profiteroles) and Nick walks us around the garden with a brace or two of peacocks who have just been in the family way, orchard, pond, tropical garden and lawns. He may have a posh house but he’s not sniffy about letting guests enjoy the surroundings. He seems to enjoy sharing them.

 We join Cary later for coffee and he’s busy tossing culinary concepts up in the air like a juggler with plates. Here’s one. “It can be sweet and it can be savoury but you’ll have to wait and see,” he grinned. Here’s a clue: it’s on wheels. Oh and did I mention the Sunday lunch was absolutely first class?

 *Check Cary’s Facebook and Twitter pages for details of the next Sunday lunch in September. Details going up soon on www.barlowwoodseatshall.com

IMG_0246 Barlow Woodseats Hall 13-08-2017 17-22-51.JPG


LATEST NEWS: Sunday lunches are on hold at the moment, as is the hall website, while planning difficulties are being resolved.


Is this the perfect Yorkshire pub?

P1060343 topside of beef at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 16-23-57

Topside of beef blushing pink

THEY do things differently at the Board Inn, Lealholm, a little village tucked away in a valley in the North Yorks Moors. My wife Sue has ordered the scallops in butter sauce as her main and the waitress has just asked her if she’d like a Yorkshire Pudding with it.

“With scallops. Why?” she asks, surprised. “Because it’s Sunday,” the waitress says, as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Sue is about to say no when I intervene. Oh yes she will. I’m having the topside of beef and this way I’ll get two Yorkies. Actually I get three because when my plate arrives there are already two big crispy puds on it.

Everything about the Board Inn is supersized. At most pubs the biggest struggle is between choosing the beef or the lamb or possibly the pork. Here you have to make your mind up between three beef dishes, topside, rib or slow-cooked silverside, all supplied, as a blackboard of breeders, growers and suppliers helpfully informs, by M Wood, a local butcher.

I’ve written before about the pub here. Let your imagination run wild on what your ideal boozer would be and the Board Inn (established 1742) exceeds it. On the banks of the River Esk, it has two unspoiled bars and a dining room decorated with prints and pots and fishing rods, B&B rooms, real beer and good food cooked by landlord Alistair Deans, mostly from ingredients grown within a radius of a couple of miles. The fish is a bit of a problem. It comes from Whitby seven miles up the road.

It’s a perfect sunny Sunday with the sounds of light jazz and show tunes coming from a mature five piece swing band playing on the wooden decking over the river outside the dining room window. With a two girl, three man line-up, they’re the Esk Valley’s answer to Fleetwood Mac.

P1060341 Scallops starter at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 16-00-56

Sweet scallops with lardons and lemon butter sauc

Lealholm, a pocket-sized village of some 50 homes but still managing to fit in a school, post office and general stores, ice cream and sweet shop, petrol station, garage, post office, three churches, two tea rooms, three water fountains, a garden centre, public toilets and a railway station, is fortunate to have the pub.

Until Alistair and his wife Karen arrived in the summer of 2007 things looked grim on the banks of the Esk. By all accounts the atmosphere at the pub was cold and it opened erratically. “It went up for sale and there was talk of it being turned into a house. There was talk of clubbing together and buying it as a community pub and the next thing we knew it had been sold,” says one resident.

P1060334 Blackboard Sunday menu at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 15-28-57

The blackboard menu at the Board Inn

Alistair had form. A former Smithfield butcher, he had run a foodie pub in Sheringham, Norfolk, before heading north. He keeps in touch with the meat business by raising his own cattle “fussed over by Gill and Richard Smith of Wood Hill Farm,” according to the blackboard, and cooking it.

I can tell my wife her scallops are going to be good because I order a smaller version to start with: three tender, sweet little pieces cook with lardons of bacon in a herbed up lemon butter sauce. She has five complete scallops. They have been cooked precisely, are sweet and come with their corals. I mention this because I was once visiting a restaurant kitchen in France and annoyed the chef because I was horrified he was cutting them off and throwing them away.

P1040102 Board Inn, Lealholm

The Board Inn beside the River Esk at Lealholm

The topside comes in two slices the size of paving slabs – well, cut thickly at about a quarter of an inch – and are pink as requested, juicy, easily cut and as tasty as they come. It’s the sort of meat you roll aroud your mouth to give all your tastebuds a treat.

The gravy, with more in a jug, is full of meat juices and if the roast potatoes are a little on the plus side of done I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m wondering if the Board Inn is the perfect Yorkshire pub.

We are full but nothing is going to stop me having a rhubarb sundae, full of sharp-sweet poached fruit and homemade ice cream. Sue has an enormous portion of rich beetroot and chocolate cake.

We sit, replete, with our coffees and listen to the band. Sunday lunches don’t come any better than this, we think. And that’s before I go to the bar to pay to discover that someone has already settled our bill.

Visit www.theboardinn.com

*We visited while on holiday at the delightful Prospect Coach House in nearby Great Fryupdale a couple of miles away. The two bedroom holiday let is available through www.sykescottages.co.uk

P1060332 the band plays on at the Board Inn 16-07-2017 15-27-20

The band plays on at the Board Inn, Lealholm

Charlie’s on a roll at Peppercorn


The bread rolls look sexy at Peppercorn

Charlie and Kelly have sold their business to the Summer House next door and will close on Christmas Day. They’d taken bookings for this early in the year. They are keeping future plans close to their chests but have their eye on premises in Sheffield, although nothing has been signed yet. A recent ‘goodbye’ evening meal proved excellent, with main courses such as duck breast with hazelnuts, on a beef dripping potato cake, as well as an old favourite here, cod with Indian spices. Here’s a look back at a Sunday lunch a while ago.


I MAY have mentioned this before but head chef Charlie Curran makes the sexiest bread rolls in Sheffield: springy little spheres of warm dough with a dimple in the top, dusted with white flour. They just look nudge, nudge, wink, wink, food porn naughty.

 There are four of them on a slate at our table, two white, two wholemeal, with discs of butter, one yellow, one black, being flavoured with Henderson’s Relish. This does nothing for the butter but makes it Very Sheffield.

 The rolls regularly get an outing on his Twitter page which, as an amateur baker, makes me green with envy. I cannot get mine as temptingly curvy as Charlie’s. And they’re in the first picture which comes up for the restaurant on TripAdvisor. If  British Baker magazine ran a Page Three these little bread buns would be on it.

 We are at Peppercorn, the restaurant he runs with front of house soulmate Kelly Ware on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield, for Sunday lunch. It is exactly three years to the day since my review of the place in the Sheffield Star, shortly after it opened. How spooky is that? Back then I raved about the cylindrical chicken (here ) and vowed that if all potato dishes were like his fondant spuds I’d give up chips for life. Sadly, it hasn’t happened.

 It was a five star meal then, even though it was early days, and it is a five star Sunday lunch which gets under way spectacularly with an exquisitely flavoured fish sausage of scallops and lobster, the shellfish in toothsome pieces within a finely minced filling on a bed of springy homemade squid ink linguine, bathed in a cheesy thermidor sauce. It’s a winner.


Fish boudin with squid ink linguine

 Apparently it’s the first one out the kitchen as a trial for the a la carte menu. The excellent pasta is made by sous chef Dan Kidd. Charlie ‘inherited’ Dan when he followed Brian Moran into the premises. Come to think about it, not the only catering Brian in his life. Years ago he worked for Brian Turner in London.

 My wife’s chicken liver pate with toasted brioche was also a little belter of a dish for richness and flavour.

 Now Sunday lunch is like fish and chips or a curry: you spend days looking forward to it and then, so often, the reality fails to live up to the anticipation. Not here.


Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding

 There are three slices of tender beef, still pink and full of flavour, draped over four crunchy roast potatoes which taste as if they have just come out of the pan, not taken a turn in a deep fat fryer as I had recently. The gravy is made with the meat juices and there is a big, crispy Yorkshire Pudding. It is pretty close to Sunday lunch perfection.

 My wife, meanwhile, is enjoying the cod, a good piece accurately cooked on a bed of crushed potatoes with a simple, classic chive butter sauce. Vegetables come by the barrowload. Well almost. We count four dishes of cauliflower cheese, mashed swede and carrot, peas and beans and red cabbage. Surely people don’t get though all that?” They do,” says Charlie later.

We share a sweet, a properly wobbly pannacotta brave enough to be served out of the mould with berries and a strange green spongy sort of thing made to resemble woodland moss. “Wheatgrass,” says our waitress. It’s a novelty.

 It’s been a super meal with friendly, relaxed service. When Charlie comes out of the kitchen I compliment him on the rolls and the food. “I love baking,” he says and agrees that Sunday lunches have a different atmosphere in the kitchen. When everyone else has gone they’ll all sit down to their own Sunday lunch, chefs, servers and pot washer. I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did. Two courses cost £20, three for £25.

 We leave thinking that these premises, a low key building shaped like a shoebox, squeezed in between a Park & Ride car park and the Summer House, give little hint of the quality of cooking inside. But then he’s only keeping up with a tradition, following two fine chefs here, Cary Brown of Carriages and Brian Moran.

 Right now Charlie is on a roll in more ways than one.


Looking happy – Charlie Curran

 289 Abbeydale Road South, S17 3LB Sheffield. Web http://www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk





Sunday at Marco’s

Marco's of Sheffield - a glowering presence

Marco’s of Sheffield – a glowering presence

We’ve had Sunday lunch at Marco’s New York Italian on West Bar Green, Sheffield, but first three stories about Marco Pierre White, the celebrity chef who looks like a real bruiser with that squids ink tagliatelle of a hairdo.

The first is of the customer who ordered chips in one of his very posh restaurants. MPW muttered under his breath. Chips did not go with the dish but he cut the potatoes, cooked them and added £25 on the bill for his Michelin-starred time.

Then there was the chef who couldn’t stand the heat in the kitchen until the fiery Marco took a knife and slit the seat of his chequered pants.

But my favourite is of the restaurant reviewer who in his early days wrote admiringly of his background of classical French cooking, pointing out that the Leeds-born chef had never been to France but knew a man who had.

The joke is in the back story. There was not one man but three who were his kitchen mentors: the dazzlingly talented French chefs Pierre Koffman, Raymond Blanc and Nico Ladenis.

By now, I’d guess, the equally dazzlingly talented Mr White has been to France and around the world, certainly to Italy and New York, and Australia, where he is very big on TV. He has even been to Sheffield although not until after his restaurant opened last April. It’s next door to the Hamilton by Hilton Hotel in a building I last visited with out of date motoring documents when it was a police headquarters.

You can’t miss it: there’s a picture outside of Marco glowering as if someone has just collapsed the soufflé.

Sheffield got quite excited when Marco’s, the third in the chain the chef fronts, opened up but cynical old foodies like me knew that while MPW may once have had three Michelin stars he had handed them all in and retired from the kitchen way back in 1999. But people like it when you sprinkle a little celebrity stardust.

So I didn’t bother then but the management recently made me an offer: I could eat there for Sunday lunch, bring some friends and it was all on Marco’s, free, gratis and for nothing, provided I wrote about it. It wasn’t just me but just about every other foodie who blogged and tweeted in Sheffield.
I just thought you should know so you can reach for the salt cellar if you think it’s needed.

We couldn’t make Tweeters’ Sunday so did the following one. Knowing that the great man was due to host a £60 a head dinner a few days later – there was an armchair he’d be sitting in to sign books and menus – I took the chance to sit in it first.

Marco’s does pizza, pasta, steaks and ribs, more or less like any other Sheffield Italian and as I’ve never been to New York can’t judge the American angle. In any case we had what was mostly a very British three course Sunday lunch at £16. Its PR spin is that “We’re an American-Italian restaurant and the notion of sharing good food with friends and family is a culture engrained in both of those countries.” And I thought we did that, too, in England.

The basic premise is that you can share each course and for starters we tucked into some excellent, very crabby crab cakes, gutsy chicken wings, punchy tomato bruschetta and a very good mackerel pate, among other things. The only complaint was there was not enough toast for the pate.

There was a choice of three meats and a vegetarian option for mains. There were four of us and we could have had one of each but decided on the beef and chicken, leaving the gammon and goats cheese tart for another time.

The beef drew most approval on account of its tastiness, slices blushing pink. The chicken came in portions and I liked the herb rub on the skin. Everyone loved the vegetables which included a rather good red cabbage although the duck fat roast potatoes tasted a little jaded. “It’s a bit like having a carvery at your table,” said one of the party.

We sampled all three desserts. Excellent rhubarb crumble had a fine layer of crunchiness with just the right heft of rhubarb. The ladies in the party had sticky toffee and sticky chocolate puddings, one either side of a board, and loved them.

People are used to going out into the country for Sunday lunch, certainly in the summer, so it may take a little time for the idea of coming into the city to catch on.

Marco’s is a big, comfortable place with seating for 110. Head chef John Cluckie who opened he restaurant has now moved up to development chef and Fenchman Flo Grou has taken his place. Our meal was cooked by sous chef Lee Crookes.

Then there’s Andrea Booker, the Sheffield girl come home as restaurant manager, who calls you ‘darling’ and looks after you smashing. We reckoned Marco’s scored very heavily for value for money as portions are more than generous. And for darlings. Oh yes, and you can get chips.

West Bar Green, Sheffield, S1 2DA. Tel: 0114 399 099. Web: http://www.marcosheffield.co.uk

Marco's roast beef

Marco’s roast beef